Can Hollywood find its way back to turning classic sci-fi into killer blockbusters? We dare to dream in lotusland, to sail beyond the sunset…

Why waste our breath complaining about Hollywood more? So many others have already done such a swell job in our place.

“Stagnating, sluggish, modest, and slow growth,” moans “Hollywood’s Great Stagnation,” blares the headline at Letter & Liturgy. “Stuck in a bubble,” rasps “Running out of ideas,” ponders “Hollywood is over,” sobs Vanity Fair. “Lost touch with American values,” proposes the L.A. Times. “How will Hollywood survive,” pearl-clutches the NYT.

Yes, thank you, media pundits. Could you please point to the doll to show us where Hollywood touched you? Oh, wait, Quartz has the answer. Superhero movies, of course. The pin for the blame is always superhero movies. You know, we here at Geeky Domain kinda like superhero movies. The problem isn’t superhero movies. The problem is an exclusive diet of superhero movies.


“Hmmm, where to go for lunch?’

We can remember when Batman (1989) came out. That was the same year as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and The Little Mermaid. All of those are movies we still talk about now. We can remember when Superman (1978) came out. That was the same year as Grease, Animal House, The Deer Hunter, and Halloween. All of those are movies we still talk about now.

What happened? A few superhero movies did well, and then suddenly everything else disappeared. It was like we wanted one little slice of chocolate cake for dessert after dinner, and then the next thing you know we’re that fat kid in Matilda (1996) forced to eat a whole chocolate cake bigger than the moon.


Do I have to eat all the Fantastic Fours too?

If Hollywood runs to the bottom of the barrel with superhero movies (we can see Squirrel Girl coming, and we’re scared!), it just starts over at the top again. How many remakes and reboots of Spider-Man are there now? No seriously, can you even count them all? How many times do we need to sit through his backstory again? How many times do we have to watch poor old Uncle Ben die?


Uncle Ben nooooooooo

Remember the good ol’ days when Hollywood, alongside adapting comic books, would also adapt actual book books? Well here’s five adaptations I, for one, would like to see. And these aren’t just potshots off the bookshelf, I have a compelling case to argue for each one. Sit back, relax, and fan yourself with my impotent nerd rage.


Ringworld (Larry Niven)

It’s pretty sobering to think that I even need to introduce this work here. Golden Age sci-fi legend Larry Niven had this epic trilogy and a whole fantasy universe called the Known Space series, and other authors even collaborated within it. You know how many Wookies and Klingons you see at a sci-fi convention now? That’s how many Ringworld fans you used to encounter at sci-fi cons in the ’80s.

For those of you who don’t know, Larry Niven thinks BIG! The title object is an artifact in space, a hoop built around a star, inhabited with teeming life and its original constructors unknown. The structure is explored by a team of humans and aliens, but when Larry Niven designs an alien, he doesn’t just glue rubber ears to a human and call it a day. His aliens evolve on far-off planets in completely different shapes from anything we know, with patterns of thought logical to them and sideways to us. By the time you’ve fully learned of a Kzinti, a Pak Protector, or god-help-us a Pierson’s Puppeteer, it will be every bit as three-dimensional to you as a Hobbit. And then Larry Niven is just getting started. One of his other books is titled Playgrounds of the Mind, which is exactly how he thinks all the time. The Ringworld series is jammed with crazy interstellar novelties on every page.


You think this guy’s silly, but his species is the most advanced in the universe and he’s basically Thanos crossed with Machiavelli.

Speaking of Hobbits, Peter Jackson is exactly who it would take to realize the Ringworld universe. One of the reasons a Ringworld adaptation has stalled so many times is because of its scope and unchecked wild invention. We have the technology now, and God knows we’re all starving for a fun mind playground.


This Perfect Day (Ira Levin)

Ira Levin is an author, like Philip K. Dick, whose novels translate to film with an almost eerie precision. You know Levin’s work, because you at least know Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Stepford Wives (1975), to say the least. Just about every word Levin ever scribbled has been translated to film, except for this unknown dystopian ditty published in 1970.


Ira Levin saw it all coming man!

If the word “dystopian” caught your eye, well, there is no nice way to put what I’m about to say. Just get your pitchfork ready to stab me. Ready? OK, you know how everybody loves Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World today for being allegedly prophetic of our present day? Well I hate to break it to you, but compared to Ira levin, Orwell and Huxley together don’t amount to a dollar-store fortune cookie (ouch!) when it comes to predicting today! Ira Levin must have built an actual time machine and moved to 2020, where he rented an apartment and wrote the manuscript for This Perfect Day with one eye on cable news. There can be no other possible explanation.

Government surveillance? Check. Globe-spanning computer network? Check. Secret elite cabal that controls everything? Check. Confining sexual repression? Check. A population chemically controlled with psychmeds? Check. Cryogenics and genetic engineering to the point of transhumanism? Check. Laptops??? Yes, really, he describes something like a laptop way back in 1970. Mind blown yet? Oh, wait until you see This Perfect Day!


Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)

I’ll keep it short and sweet this time because I just wrote about Kurt Vonnegut a whole lot recently. Recap in brief: Hollywood keeps trying to adapt his novels into movies, and most of these attempts are horrible flops. Over at my 366WeirdMovies gig, I have been questing for the best (and weirdest) Kurt Vonnegut film adaptation and have so far settled on Slaughterhouse-Five (1972).


Bokononist foma is the wampeter of our karass!

Well, with the understanding that Vonnegut is impossible to film… Cat’s Cradle is my pick for most filmable unfilmed Vonnegut. For one thing, it’s pretty linear, so it avoids his usual Tarantino-esque hopping around. It has more plot and characters per pound of prose, while Vonnegut sticks to a plain-spoken style for a change, so not too much will be lost to translation. It is a scathing satire of religion and government, as the Yin and Yang of everything that’s wrong with people, so there’s young generations out there primed to love it. It’s among Vonnegut’s funniest works, with the dialogue taking center stage. It has hardly any Kilgore Trout in it for a change. Lastly, it’s also a pretty good sci-fi story. Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio thinks so too.

I know, I know, Vonnegut and Hollywood go together like pickles and peanut butter. But as the director George Roy Hill showed us, it’s possible to make a good Vonnegut movie if you just lay off sniffing glue for a few weeks.



The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (Robert A. Heinlein)

In the back of my guilty pleasures closet, when no one can see me, I am a Robert A. Heinlein fan. Yes, he was a pulp skiffy hack who let his political bigotry and kinky perversions devour his talent until he ended his days publishing author tracts right next to Ayn Rand. When he wasn’t grossing everybody out with his dirty old man fantasies about 45-way in-law orgies.


Piers Anthony called, he wants his perv-shaming back.

Yes, but he was a damned GOOD pulp skiffy hack! I really can’t perfectly justify this Heinlein novel over any other, except that something from his Lazarus Long period should see the screen. But we can’t do Time Enough For Love because (1) ew! and (2) Back to the Future (1985) kinda rips it off a little. I can say in favor of TCWWTW that Heinlein keeps the sex to a minimum this time, the political speeches are so easy to rip out that they’re practically perforated, and this was Heinlein at his most swinging and action-packed swashbuckling. This isn’t going to make much sense, but imagine Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) in space.

Feel free to second-guess me. Heinlein published 32 novels and 59 short stories. A few of his works have been adapted, with Starship Troopers (1997) turning out quite nice. There’s some more gold to pan out of that vein, is all I’m saying.


The Colour Of Magic (Terry Pratchett)

I’m gonna hazard a guess and say that nobody is out to disagree with me on this count. You may argue that Discworld is a fantasy series rather than SF, but here is a turtle with four elephants on his back in space, so your argument is invalid.

But come on, Discworld is one of the most beloved novel franchises of all time, the fans are still legion, and they even took a little shot at a made-for-TV quickie. Check the cast on that effort: Sean Astin, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, and Jeremy Irons! This is proof a big screen Pratchett project will draw the big name star power, heck, that’s two names from Lord of the Rings right there. Is my case made? My case is made already.

Come on, studio execs, give us Discworld or anything by Terry Pratchett at all. It’s money on the table with 41 novels to milk for sequels, Hollywood, yours to grab.

This post has been one reckless pipe dream, but what can we say in our defense? Peter Jackson gave us the hope to dream big.


About the author

Penguin Pete

Penguin Pete

Geek tribal bard for the Internet, before "geek" was cool. Linux power user, MTG collector, light saber owner, cult movie fanatic, comic book memer, video gamer, Unix beard currently measures six inches.